At this point, we're no longer nostalgic. We don't let time pass so we can look back fondly; we just look back. We're so fanatical about revisiting pop-culture events, it seems like we're studying for a trivia night that determines who gets to go on the spaceship to settle Earth 2 when this one falls apart. What? You don't know what year Singles came out? Sorry pal, you stay here.
For those culture crammers, on July 26, Rhino releases Whatever: The Pop Culture Box, a seven-disc collection of 130 songs from last decade with a book of music and news timelines. The music includes chart toppers like MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" and movement markers like Bikini Kill's "Capri Pants." You won't find some of the biggest grunge hits, say Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or Pearl Jam's "Jeremy," but you'll get Seattle scene godfathers Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone. There's no Dr. Dre, but you get Ice T; no Chemical Brothers, but you get Moby. CL picked out a few of the tracks that we actually remember and why, instead of the ones VH1 told us to.
"Birdhouse in Your Soul" - They Might Be Giants: For college-music eccentrics who'd copped TMBG's first two Bar/None LPs (on vinyl, natch), "Birdhouse in Your Soul" represented something special: the chance to hear the duo's free-association-meets-Dada lyrics and insanely catchy melodies on, of all places, mainstream radio. Sadly, some big-label suit subsequently decided that accordion solos had no place on FM.
"Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" - C&C Music Factory: I was just 6 when I showed off my skills in a cheerleading dance choreographed to this track, its awesomely bad three-note riff guiding me to meticulously shake my pom-poms.
"Groove Is in the Heart" - Deee-lite: What kind of bubbles was this crew blowin' when it put Bootsie and Q-Tip in the mix? It didn't matter because when Towa Tei and DJ Dmitry laid down the groove, we all felt like club kids in New York City regardless of our ZIP code.
"OPP" - Naughty by Nature: I remember trying to demystify this acronym in elementary school, but it wasn't until college that it meant something to me. The second weekend of school after a late night of drinking, I rolled back to my dorm room and promptly missed the trash can with a voluminous wave of upchuck. Someone had performed this rite of passage the week before, and I had proudly named him "Prince of Puke," which bit me in the ass when I soon became "O.P.P," or "Other Prince of Puke."
"Baby Got Back" - Sir Mix-A-Lot: In eighth grade, Kate Moss and heroin chic ruled the pages of magazines, so I was sure that my Sassy was lying to me when it said whatever my shape was, it was beautiful. Fortunately, before I learned to score heroin, Sir Mix-A-Lot released this track, with the lyric, "36-24-36? Ha ha, only if she's 5'3"." For the first time, it dawned on me that maybe curves were good.
"Rumpshaker" - Wreckx-N-Effect: The first hit helmed by the now-super producers the Neptunes, Pharrell and Chad Hugo signed to work with Teddy Riley's production company while reportedly still in high school. The teen titans also produced tracks for SWV and Blackstreet back in the day.
"Possession" - Sarah McLachlan: No doubt a great track, but a better selection for this collection would be one of Rabbit in the Moon's remixes (yes, there was more than one). Woven through dark trance beats, McLachlan's vocals became more haunting and luxurious while compelling warehouses of kids to dance. Of course, that could have been the Ecstasy, too.
"Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" - Urge Overkill: First, I hate Neil Diamond and had I known this was a cover when I first heard it, I would have hated the song on principle. Instead, I heard it when I was 14 and watching Pulp Fiction. My parents were in another theater watching Circle of Friends, a movie much shorter than the one I was watching. Naturally, my parents walked in just as Marcellus Wallace held that samurai sword up, indicating that the faux officer Zed would "be a woman soon." My parents were none too pleased.
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" - R.E.M.: Having built its reputation on a decade of moody art-school rock, R.E.M. dirtied things up with this grunge-flavored hit from Monster in 1994. The song is inspired by an incident in 1986 in which news anchor Dan Rather was assaulted on Park Avenue by a man asking, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" The assailant was eventually identified as William Tager, who was later convicted of killing an NBC stagehand the same year the song was released. Apparently, Tager thought the news studio was beaming signals into his brain.
"Buddy Holly" - Weezer: Sure, the band's material was catchy, but its real influence was reviving those damn Buddy Holly-style glasses.
"Good" - Better Than Ezra: A girlfriend and I ventured to Austin for SXSW while attending college. We were too poor to buy even a Budweiser, but our passes allowed us into all the venues for free. So we hopped on over to the club where Better Than Ezra was playing. I'd heard of the band via my college paper and thought I was pretty cool for being on the early side of a "breaking band." Meh, turns out I wasn't so cool after all.
"Wonderwall" - Oasis: When this came out, I was in high school and a friend rewrote the lyrics to show her devotion to a dude named Robbie Hall, who I'm quite sure never knew she existed. She also later rewrote "Champagne Supernova" into "Champagne Chevy Nova" - in honor of Hall's car. I'm sure she became an excellent stalker post-graduation.
"Walking on the Sun" - Smash Mouth: I was in my late 20s, and hanging with my boyfriend at his house after a Phish show. Seeing lead singer Steve Harwell in long, baggy shorts dancing around in what looked like a huge circular lamp was more than my acid-fueled giggle box could take. I thought my perma-grin was going to get a break, but Steve and his bandmates looked ridiculous through my hallucinogenic eyes. We laughed and laughed until the wee hours of the morn.
Got memories? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributing writers: Suzanne Van Atten, Scott Henry, Casey McIntire, Nikhil Swaminathan, Sonia Clark, Lea Holland, T. LaGon, Mara Shalhoup, Carlton Hargro, Heather Kuldell
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